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The end of the password is nigh

Despite the many tech advances, the old fashioned ‘password’ is still being used for most online services. But, LEE NAIK, CEO of TransUnion Africa, believes this will soon come to an end with the likes of biometric and HMI authentication.

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We’ve come a long way in the last century. We’ve put a man on the moon and shot a car into space. We’ve gone from drive-ins to drones, and from telegrams to Twitter. But we still haven’t quite managed to shake one relic from the past: the password.

You’d think that a method of authentication that was rubbish when Ali Baba used it wouldn’t still be torturing us today, but the password has somehow survived well into the digital age. It was responsible for the first ever computer data breach, back in the 1960s, and even those involved in its creation and advancement don’t think too highly of it. 

People have been predicting the death of password protection as we know it for years – Bill Gates said it was heading for extinction back in 2014 – but the time might have finally come to bury it in the backyard. The World Wide Web Consortium has come up with a new browser authentication standard that replaces traditional logins with more intuitive and user-friendly authentication measures such as biometrics, security keys and fingerprint scanners. 

It’s not laziness, it’s energy conservation

Why does Bill’s prediction look like it’s finally about to come true? It’s not like there haven’t been advances in password technology before, from hash encryption to two-factor authentication and cryptography. But there’s a reason that most people default to terrible, easy-to-remember passwords like “qwerty” or “123456” – because experience matters more than anything else in shaping behaviour. 

Few people care what’s going on behind the scenes of the authentication process. What they recall is the pain of remembering multiple different logins across websites and devices, the friction of having to type in a random string of characters to access their favourite services, and the frustration of dealing with lost passwords. Talk about a Rube Goldberg machine!

You can ease the pain somewhat through password managers and UX workarounds, but the alphanumeric password is one of the most poorly designed digital experiences we encounter daily. Compare that to using the fingerprint scanner on your phone – a much more natural and intuitive form of authentication. Why would you ever choose a regular password over that? 

History is littered with the corpses of innovations that didn’t quite catch on, not because they weren’t technically good but because they were just too awkward to use. It’s why VR goggles haven’t quite caught fire but smartwatches have – it’s not about the technology itself; it’s the platform you use to engage with it. Despite this simple truth, organisations all too often get caught up in a tech or spec war, ignoring the way consumers access their products. 

The way you make me feel

What’s the most beloved brand in the world? Some of the usual suspects that top these lists include Google, Amazon, Netflix and Apple. Unsurprisingly, they also offer simple, yet masterful, interfaces for interacting with their service. Type what you want to know in a simple white box. Search for anything you want and buy it with one click. Choose an interesting-looking movie or TV show and click play. Yes, they offer rich product and service ecosystems, but that came later. First, they needed to make it as natural and pleasurable as possible for people to use them. 

Anyone who reads my columns regularly will know that I am a big Apple devotee, so it should come as no surprise that I’m the owner of an iPhone X. Being completely honest, I think the model is kind of gimmicky. But it also works. Having removed the bezel, the way you access the home screen is by swiping up. It’s a small change, but it just feels right.

Now the techies and iPhone sceptics among you might argue that there are better phones out there when it comes to features or technical quality. One of the major reasons for Apple’s love by consumers, though, is that it’s the ultimate experiential brand. Subtle interactions, like that upward swipe, epitomise that commitment to perfecting every aspect of the user experience, from purchase to use to support.

That’s why I have so much faith that Face ID will be a gamechanger. Sure, the implementation might not be perfect yet, but Apple will keep at it until it feels as natural for us as using a mouse or opening an email.  

Learn from the best

Most organisations can’t begin to compete with the level of experience design that brands like Apple and Google excel at, but they can adopt a more experiential approach to product and service design. Biometric and HMI technologies are racing forward, yet many businesses are failing to keep up with how their customers engage with their platforms and technologies. 

Banks have made it easy for us to send money online and via mobile apps, but what if they made it as seamless as sending a WhatsApp message? What if you could have a conversation with your doctor as easily as you have one with your friends? And what if taking out an insurance policy was as fast as signing up for a streaming music platform?

What experiential brands get right is not just an understanding of the technologies available, but how it changes human behaviour. Just because you’re not in entertainment doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the way games onboard users or Disney uses wearables to remove friction from their theme park experiences. 

Forcing people into clumsy, inorganic experiences when there are better options available is a sure way of driving them somewhere else. The cyborg age is here – it’s time to start designing experiences around it. 

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CES: Most useless gadgets of all

Choosing the best of show is a popular pastime, but the worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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